James Camb – 1947

By | November 12, 2016

If Miss Gibson had greeted Camb naked why were her pyjamas missing?

james-camb

The porthole from the Durban Castle is carried into Winchester Assizes during the trial

THE CRIME:

On 10 October 1947 the actress Eileen Isabella Ronnie “Gay” Gibson boarded the Southampton-bound liner Durban Castle at Cape Town. Most of the other passengers were older people. Eight days into the voyage, as the ship passed West Africa, it was noted that Miss Gibson was missing. Captain Arthur Patey of the Durban Castle put the vessel into reverse and a search began for the missing 21 year old. However, there was no sign. Her porthole in Cabin 126 on B deck was open and there were stains on her bedclothes.

The call button in the cabin had been pushed in the early hours of 18 October and when Frederick Steer, a member of the galley staff, responded deck steward James Camb, 31, answered the door. It was strictly forbidden for the crew to spend time with the passengers outside of work and Camb denied ever being in the cabin. When the ship’s doctor examined Camb he noticed red scratches on the right side of the neck, shoulder and wrist, and Camb was put in the brig and handed over to the police at Southampton.

Camb said that the red marks were a heat rash but admitted that he had been in the cabin and had had consensual intercourse with Miss Gibson, who was bored with spending time with the older passengers. However, during sex Miss Gibson, who had greeted him naked apart from a dressing gown, had suffered a seizure and Camb had tried to revive her. Believing her to be dead, he panicked and pushed her body through the porthole into the sea. At Winchester Assizes on 18 March 1948 Camb went on trial. According to the prosecution Camb had raped and strangled Miss Gibson and then thrown her body overboard. They asked, if Miss Gibson had greeted Camb naked, why were her pyjamas missing? If she agreed to sex, why was her diaphragm still in her suitcase? Since there was no body, much of the evidence was circumstantial — the stains on the sheets were inconclusive. At 7.10pm on 22 March after 45 minutes’ deliberation the jury returned a guilty verdict and Camb was sentenced to death. He became the first British defendant convicted of murder without a body being found. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on 30 april 1948.

WHERE:

Off the coast of West Africa

WHEN:

2.58am Saturday 18 October 1947

THE AFTERMATH:

Camb was released on parole in September 1959 but in 1967 he was sentenced to two years’ probation after molesting a 13-year-old girl. In 1971 he was returned to prison to serve out his life sentence for indecently assaulting minors. He was released in 1978 and died on 7 July 1979 of heart failure.

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Although Camb did push Gay Gibson’s body through the porthole, a questions remains as to whether he did murder her. A 1991 book suggested that she had died of heart failure while performing oral sex on Camb, not a conclusion that could be presented in the very different times of 1948.

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